What does CX look like in the age of AI?

AI has changed things in customer experience (CX). Here are some of the most powerful examples.

June 9, 2021
What does CX look like in the age of AI?

Regardless of whether you think technology innovation will help people live better lives or create a dystopian technology akin to what we’ve seen in the movies, we’re no doubt in the age of AI.

It’s probably more accurate to consider ourselves “entering” the early age of AI. Despite the fact that AI technology has been around for some decades, it’s only recently transitioned from science-fiction fodder to experimental technology to truly commercially viable. Exciting times!

These days, most brands use AI in some way, even if it’s via an app or tool that forms part of their arsenal. Heck, if you advertise on Facebook, you’re making use of their AI algorithms to target an audience. It shows how accessible AI tech can be, but also how broadly used it is.

But today we’re going to talk about what this newly dawning age of AI means for the most important part of your business – the customer experience (or CX for short). Why? Because in the 21st century, where many industries are commodified and competition is sky-high, it’s CX that is the standout opportunity to win the hearts and minds of customers – and build healthy revenue, too.

As the graphic shows, customers who have a great experience with your brand spend more, have a lower cost to serve and remain your customers for an average five years longer.

So today, we’re going to look at what the dawning age of AI offers to CX – what this present and future looks like – and how you might use AI to provide memorable experiences that improve customer conversion, retention, advocacy and lifetime value.

1. Moving from just conversational AI to “experiential AI”

Brands are turning to AI solutions for customer experience in droves. More than nine in 10 leading businesses say they have ongoing investment in artificial intelligence.

These businesses benefit in letting AI scour for usable user data, give customers attention while they wait and free up staff so they can deal with complicated requests. Some of this AI tech is directly customer facing, opening a dialogue with people via text chat or voice interfaces, as a means to simulate human interaction.

You might know it as conversational AI. Chatbots, voice assistants, IVR, virtual assistants and digital humans all use AI to power a personalized customer dialogue.

As conversational AI becomes more sophisticated, the use cases for it swell. It becomes more than just a way to answer simple questions quickly, and it begins to offer more of an experience. They can add humor, personality and fun to buyer journeys. Should the customer be contacting about a problem, experiential AI solutions can show empathy, warmth, concern and friendliness.

2. AI to add more personalization to the customer experience

Despite the wealth of customer data businesses are gathering, only 13% of brands say they are “very or extremely satisfied” with their marketing personalization efforts.

To this end, expect the age of AI to enter an organization’s customer experience strategy by organizing and streamlining customer data, automating time-intensive processes and powering personalized customer interactions in real time.

These three tasks are the parts of customer experience AI is expected to have the most significant impacts, according to IBM. IBM also encourages businesses to have a rounded strategy when preparing to use AI for customer experience improvements.

There are plenty of opportunities for conversational AI to improve personalization efforts. After all, what’s more personal than a one-on-one conversation?

And there’s a real reason why personalization remains such a promising opportunity for marketing, sales and business development. As the graphic below shows, it can be attributed to better CX, customer loyalty and ROI. Considering how few businesses are truly happy with their current personalization efforts (13%), experiential AI has a lot of room to deliver a tangible improvement in the coming months and years.

3. AI scalability cutting down customer wait times

Anyone who has worked a busy retail shift will know the pain of being trapped behind a cash register watching a growing queue with no help in sight. It’s not much more enjoyable for customers, either – in any scenario.

In fact, three in 10 customers would rather watch paint dry than be put on hold.

Long wait times for your customers are bad in any scenario. Save for throwing more people on the phones or behind the counters, how can you possibly provide a real-time customer experience? Remember, we’re in the age of AI.

Conversational AI is allowing for the triage of customer service requests, depending on the nature and value of the request. What’s interesting is how different forms of AI can help specifically in different scenarios.

For example, chatbots are perfect for answering really simple, low-value questions when customers want one answer in seconds. Voice assistants like Siri are doing similar roles in the B2C space.

Digital humans work to offer more of a dialogue and conversation with personality at the front of the experience, so can offer longer customer experience interactions where the need for convenience is high and the value of the interaction is higher.

And finally, customer service requests that need a true human touch remain possible through traditional “person-to-person” channels. These become more scalable because the conversational AI tools have triaged the lower-value, easy-to-automate requests away from real people.

We call this the digital workforce – and you can read about how to build one in our free eBook.

4. Moving away from chatbots and providing a more personal touch

Adding conversational AI to your website will impact your customer experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re a guaranteed win on their own. Particularly if you’re relying on chatbots to be the be-all and end-all of your digital customer experience.

We’ve seen people have expectations when engaging with chatbots, and they’re not always positive; but there are ways to swing the odds in your favor and ensure these AI companions are benefiting the customer experience and creating the outcomes you’re looking for.

The most obvious way for chatbots to help is by quickly connecting customers to the information they’re looking for. Instead of waiting for a human representative to become available, customers can message the always-ready and -willing chatbot to have their query solved immediately.

Chatbots let your people focus on the work that really needs them, while ensuring customers with simple issues are still getting timely attention and assistance. A report from Salesforce found that more than three quarters of decision makers believe that chatbots are most effective in these cases when they’re supporting and freeing up the company’s staff representatives.

Chatbots on their own aren’t enough to generate a positive experience for customers. Less than one in three people say chatbots are friendly and approachable. Many brands are now finding the inherent limitations of chatbots, particularly when they once considered them the panacea of all CX ills.

One such limitation is the lack of personality. In virtually every instance, advertisements use personality to tell a story and engage with people. A brand’s customer-facing employees offer personality in spades. But their chatbots become a real lull in personality-driven CX.

No wonder, then, that 42% of brands are prioritizing building a more “human experience” into their chatbot strategies as a point of urgency. After all, when everyone has a chatbot, how else will yours offer something unique?

5. CX becomes about interactions, not just transactions

More than half of the executives IBM surveyed are driven to conversational AI because they want to maintain the customer-centric nature of their respective brands.

We’ll keep this one short. People don’t want to feel like a number – customers don’t want to feel like a number.

Experience-focused AI prioritizes the use of customer interactions over just transactions.

Customers get a conversation that can last as long as they like, they can ask any number of questions and they may even feel more open to asking questions they otherwise wouldn’t want to ask a real person.

Sure, some customers may just want a quick and simple transaction. But when they want and need a deeper level of customer service – one with a more lasting impact and greater levels of interaction and engagement – it’s there for them.

Welcome to the age of AI. We’re excited to have our digital humans be a part of it.